When the government put arts under the new Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, it sent a very clear message to Australia that the government does not think arts are important—so much so that they didn't even bother to put the name in the title of their own department. But, if we want a healthy and thriving society, we must embrace and nurture our arts, not just because of what the industry contributes economically or the positive effects the arts have on our health and wellbeing—as the Sydney Symphony Orchestra did this week in this place—and not just because, even before we have our children at preschool, our education of them starts in the home with Australian shows like Play School and Bluey—and, yes, they are the arts.
The reason it's really important is that the arts teach us empathy—to understand the perspectives of people who come from different cultures and different backgrounds. Through the storytelling of film, dance, books, visual arts, song and drama, we can learn from things we might never have the chance to experience in our own lives. And, just as powerfully, we can also see an experience that we have had and, by seeing it played back to us, find clarity and meaning in our own story. When New Zealander Taika Waititi said at the Academy Awards:
I dedicate this to all the Indigenous kids in the world who want to do art and dance and write stories—
he was reminding people how important the power to share your story is. These stories, our stories, told by artists and writers, musicians and performers, are documenting Australia, our present and our history, and it's time the government was on the right side of that story.